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SWORD OF THE SCARRED
by JEFFREY HALL
What it is about?
The price of becoming a legend is more than most are willing to pay.
Requiem Balestone is the last of the Scarred, a group of warriors with tremendous power that when wielded leaves cruel wounds upon their skin. After a lifetime of battling monsters, he’s gathered enough scars to become a ruined version of his former self.
But before he can lay down his blade, one last mission calls him to battle. A mission that pulls him into the middle of a civil war that threatens to destroy the world. And as both sides close in around him, and a mysterious evil begins to stalk the land, Requiem must decide if he’s willing to sacrifice the rest of himself to become the savior of the realm, or walk away from it for good.
G.M – Sword of the Scarred delivers an interesting grimdark premise with interesting worldbuilding. But, unfortunately, by the 20% mark, I can’t say I was compelled to continue. Stakes and a quest are set up for the titular scarred warrior, but given that the person he’s charged himself with protecting is still unconscious, I had a tough time grasping where this would go in the next few chapters. Still, it’s a well-written book and may appeal to dark fantasy fans. 7/10
Jason – I had no idea what to expect from Sword of The Scarred as the author and story were totally new to me
which is one of the great things about this competition. I’ll admit now that I haven’t finished this book, but I did read enough to say I like it. The protagonist Requiem is interesting. He’s wanting to end his long hard life but can’t because he rescues someone and then feels responsible for her. The thing driving the narrative then becomes a desire to get this girl (who he’s dragging around because she’s unconscious) to safety while teasing out the threads of what is going on with her and the new events unfolding in the world. The world-building is well done presenting a rough and difficult setting with lots of dangers lurking around the corner and some back history that begs for further detail and fleshing out. The magic system where a stone gives power to it’s wielder and then puts scars on their body as a reminder of its cost is interesting.
While at times the writing seemed a little overdone (opening battle scene for example) for the most part the prose was balanced and fitting to the scene.
There’s a good balance of action scenes with those that move the story forward. The pacing seemed on point with little reveals here and there to keep my interest.
I think there are many readers who will enjoy Sword of The Scarred and I hope they give it a shot.
I enjoyed my time with it and look forward to more from this series, but it was one I still voted to cut because I enjoyed the book that did become our finalist a little more. Rating: 7 out of 10
Becca – I enjoyed reading through this one, although some of the characters fell a little flat. This had a fabulous premise, and this is one that I think many will enjoy, especially those that love a good military read!
Beth – Sword of the Scarred was my pick as a semi-finalist. I loved the premise of this book. The idea of Requiem and what forces him to act was a very new twist on a fantasy idea. The writing for the most part was clean and crisp, kept the book moving from page to page, it had great battle scenes, and had a dark edge. But the writing was not so dark that it would alienate some readers. It toes the line just enough to show that this world is not a great place for Requiem, but it isn’t extremely grimdark. If you are a fan of darker fantasy then this is a great pick for you. 7.5/10
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THE INNER LANDS – SOMETHING STIRS
by A.J. AUSTIN
What it is about?
For centuries, the mountainous borders of the Inner Lands had kept the monstrous Grinth at bay, and people had finally found peace. But their complacency would be their undoing, for everything was about to change. As their world falls apart around them, an unlikely bond between a young girl, beaten by her father, and a conflicted warrior, haunted by his tragic past, could well seal the fate of all humanity.
As they fight for their survival, a final battle looms. But before they can stand a chance against the Grinth, they’ll first have to conquer their own pasts. Will friendship and strength prevail? Or will the cunning and cruelty of evil twist the world into turmoil? Nothing is certain in the Inner Lands.
When Fallor called a meeting for the entire Hillock village, little did Sill know that it was just the beginning in a series of events that would reshape everything she knew about their small world. The banishing of her abusive father frees her to embark on a journey of her own. One in which she encounters incredible natural wonders like the Moonmirror Peak, mysterious people like Draneth the shaman and his hawk Tamarellin, strange men with stranger eyes; and the mighty Rydan Fort, built into the side of a mountain.
It could have been the adventure of her dreams, were it not for the monstrous creatures that pursue her all the way; bringing death, destruction and tragedy to everything and everyone she grows to cherish. The power she kept a secret for so long is too much for her young mind to handle but she’ll have to learn how to wield it, and quickly, if she’s to survive in this harsh new world.
Dylan – The Inner Lands is primarily the story of two young protagonists with tragic upbringings and experiences who come to understand they have crucial roles to play in a world where the return of a looming threat that has lain dormant for centuries is imminent. The main protagonists, Sill and Kallem are tasked with coming to grips with their own traumatic experiences in order to meet the challenges of the increasingly tumultuous world around them.
The novel immediately drew me in before the story even started with the foreword from AJ Austin about his own personal journey, seeking to draw from his suffering and heartache to channel toward his creative process. He dedicates the book to anyone who has gone through difficulties, hoping that this novel reminds them that they are not alone. It’s a truly poignant foreword that sets the tone for the kind of story he tells.
The book has a psychological and character-driven tilt to it that shines through in its main cast and their internal struggles. Indeed, it feels that the title of the Inner Lands refers not only to the setting but also to the introspective nature and journey of our protagonists. The main character, Sill, is a twelve-year old with a horribly abusive father. Austin depicts her as having retreated into herself making her a thoughtful, introspective child with a vibrant personality hidden beneath an initially demure exterior. Being in her point of view allows us to experience the substantial depth that exists for her beneath the surface.
Kallem is the other main point of view in this book. He is dealing with the ramifications of having witnessed the death of family members. He’s a character that has tried to close himself off to any emotional experience in response to this horrific event. Throughout the story, we get well-acquainted with his personal conflict, as well as the intricacies and nuances to him that underly his gruff exterior. Kallem’s complicated relationship with his mother feels very authentic, and there are dramatic moments between those two that served as highlights to my reading experience.
The worldbuilding has interesting elements and lore through evoking the trope of the looming threat returning to the world. This might appeal to fans of that element of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin. I enjoyed the pacing at which this part of the story was revealed and unfurled. Aspects of magic, monsters, and mystery grace the Inner Lands in a way that I believe can entertain those who lean toward reading high fantasy and/or epic fantasy.
There were some parts of the book that I could see keeping it from working for everyone. The prose felt somewhat standard to me in the sense that it generally conveyed what was needed to tell the story without particular flourish or too many turns of phrases that stuck out to me. The plot could feel slow at times, especially in the middle of the novel. There were also some occasional spelling errors that took me out of the story. The other area that felt weakest for me was the lack of a well-fleshed-out villain or antagonist. The villains in this book are the Grinth, but they come off seeming like mostly mindless creatures and more a part of the world than characters in themselves. The lack of a fully realized antagonist could feel apropos for the Inner Lands, given that the true enemies for our characters lie within their own personal efforts to reconcile their internal struggles—in this case, the world-threatening enemy serves toward laying the stage to force them to grapple with these preexisting conflicts within themselves. In other words, it’s the inner demons rather than the outer ones that feel the most pertinent for our characters to address, even though the outer ones present an existential threat to the world. As a character-focused reader, I appreciated the internal struggles, while also wishing that they could’ve been brought out for our characters by a more personified enemy.
In all, I enjoyed the Inner Lands to the extent that I’m making it my choice to move on to Before We Go Blog’s next round in SPFBO! I’m excited to see how it fares against the other books our team has chosen for that round.
Eleni – Heavily expositional and meandering. I struggled to go through it. Kept feeling as if something were missing to make some things make sense. The pacing was all over the place 5.5/10
G.M – The Inner Lands has the makings of an epic, sweeping fantasy, with some interesting concepts but ultimately, I did not feel like the narrative made me all too concerned about the stakes. And although the characters do grow and change by the end of the book, I did not feel like the build-up delivered a satisfying finale. I would be interested to see how this gets built upon in the next books. 6/10
Jason – When the list of books were assigned and Team BWGB got The Inner Lands I was excited. I’d already scoped it out as a potential read because I liked the cover and the book blurb. So when Dylan recommended it as a semi-finalist I was even more excited. I read The Inner Lands all the way through and I enjoyed it.
It’s a slow burn of a novel which is something I like if done well. Where I think A.J. Austin succeeded in this area is by making the focus on the two protagonists Sill and Kallem. The narrative is a mix of their inner turmoil reacting to external events. That inner turmoil is driven by the abuse and trauma each has experienced in their short lives and gives the story added weight that requires a slower pace to carry it through to the end.
Speaking of that personal trauma, this story is really about dealing with it, and how one copes with both sudden and extended traumatic experiences. This is probably the element I loved most about the book.
Where it lacked some depth in my opinion is with world-building and a clear antagonist. The story is set entirely in a secluded valley surrounded by mountains that humans have retreated to after almost being annihilated by The Grinth, and the people have forgotten much of their history. We never see anything outside that valley, which is fine if looking for a localized story, but we only get bits and pieces from within it. And though The Grinth are an enemy they are somewhat faceless and leaderless. The true antagonist isn’t revealed until very late in the narrative and then there’s a very quick resolution. The ending felt rushed once the big baddie was revealed. Dylan’s comment that perhaps the villain(s) are the demons in the character’s own heads has some merit to it, but I think the story would have benefited from more depth in the antagonist and world-building areas. Still, I really did enjoy this book. Rating: 6/ 10
Becca – While I enjoyed part of this book, it just failed to deliver the amount of oomph needed to keep me fully engaged.